|CM Samuels speaks with the Wally's Foods owner while Kenya McKnight asks questions and Al McFarlane records.|
Several weeks ago, Metro Transit temporarily relocated two of the bus stops running north and south on Penn Avenue and Golden Valley Road. There are thankfully very few intersections left in NoMi that give me pause whenever I drive, walk, or bike through them. This is one such intersection.
There has been near-constant loitering in front of Wally's Foods, contributing to the violence and drug sales at the intersection. So when I first read in a monthly email update from CM Samuels that the stop would be relocated, I was immediately relieved, and hopeful this would lead to a reduction in violent crime. Recently, Al McFarlane wrote a piece in Insight News questioning the move. In my reading of that article, I found very little of substance beyond some whining about having to walk an extra block or so. True, Insight brought up the fact that the hypothetical senior citizen might have to walk another block or so (no one in the article claims to have been directly burdened by the move), but let's weigh that against what has happened recently.
Hmm...walk an extra block or risk getting shot in the face? That was how I was looking at the issue before fifteen to twenty people protested the bus stop location change on Saturday. As it turns out, things are rarely that simple. In speaking with a local businesswoman, I found that...
...since the Penn and GVR intersection is a transfer point for the 14 and 19 bus routes, walking an extra block might mean a difference in getting the bus that gets you to your job on time or arriving late. And of course with enough late arrivals, one's job is in jeopardy. Ms. Etta Christon at Wright Haircuts explained this dynamic to me, and emphasized the importance of Penn and Golden Valley as a transfer spot. To her credit, and that of other protesters, she's got a point. NoMi has often got the short end of the stick when it comes to transportation issues, and people should be able to get to and from places quickly and conveniently here, just as in other parts of the city.
However, nobody at the protest identified themselves as being directly affected in this way. Councilmember Don Samuels was in attendance, and not a single person stood up to say, "I have missed my bus and been late for my job because the extra block or two walk caused a delay." Kenya McKnight was also there, holding a sign that said, "There are other ways to address crime." I didn't hear any such suggestions, though.
What I did hear was quite a bit of complaining about the way Wally's Food store was run. Even while many residents and community leaders were standing outside, a 17-year-old was identified as reportedly having just bought tobacco products. Other people identified the store proprietor or employees as having chased people (at least some minors) out of the store while brandishing a gun or knife. The owner expressed reservations about calling 911 too often, fearing that doing so would result in the revocation of his business license. Samuels assured him this would not be the case.
In the end, residents asked for, and were promised, a meeting between CM Samuels' office, Metrotransit, the store owner, and community members.
The moving of the bus stop is a temporary change, and after examination it might be moved back to the original location, have the change extended, made permanent, or other adjustments could happen. I called the 4th Precinct and asked if there was any data that would link a possible reduction in crime or calls for service with the removal of the bus stop from Penn and GVR. At this time, no such hard data has been compiled. And even when the statistics are gathered, drawing a connection among all the other variables that contribute to crime and calls for service would be difficult at best. However, the intersection certainly FEELS safer when you walk, bike, or drive through it and don't encounter hordes of people loitering and up to no good.
Access to transportation means access to jobs, and difficulties around that should not be ignored. However, safety has to trump that. It's hard to get to your job on time when you have to work in the variable of walking a few blocks in between bus stops. But getting to your job becomes significantly more difficult when you're in the hospital or worse. The combination of having a bus stop in front of a store like Wally's gives drug dealers and gang members an excuse to inflict their criminal activities upon our community. Whatever solution is worked out, stopping that kind of activity must be paramount.